Exports boost local companies
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The walls of the conference room at Preiser Scientific Inc.'s conference room are covered with frames.
Each includes a piece of currency where the company exports its equipment: Vietnam, Zimbabwe, Morocco, Malaysia, Tanzania and many others.
The company has exported sophisticated laboratory equipment and supplies -- which it makes at its St. Albans laboratory and manufacturing center -- to companies in 90 countries around the world.
Alvin E. Preiser, the company's president, has been in the export business since 1980. Today, about 30 percent of his company's business is with foreign countries, he said.
During the first six months of 2012, the United States saw a decline in products it exported to other countries.
But in West Virginia, exports saw a 31 percent increase between January and June. Over those six months, a total of exports worth $5.8 billion went all over the world -- ranked 32nd among all states.
Nearly two-thirds of those West Virginia exports - 65 percent - were coal. But Leslie W. Drake, director of the West Virginia-U.S. Export Assistance Center in Charleston, said other major exports include plastics, machinery, aircraft and space equipment, as well as medical and optical goods.
Drake's Assistance Center works with the state Development Office to provide West Virginia companies with "matchmaking services" that help them create joint ventures with foreign companies.
The two government agencies also help West Virginia companies find distributors for their products, warehouses in other countries and sales representatives to help them market their products abroad.
In October, the Development Office is coordinating a trade mission to South Korea for West Virginia businesses, offering them "match-making services" for their products.
Drake's center also helps local businesses "screen foreign businesses for legitimacy and business practices. We always recommend that you screen them," Drake said.
"Companies can protect themselves by using government services. We can educate them about how to control their shipping costs," she said. "We also want to help companies expand their businesses into new companies. Most companies export to only one market."
Drake works with the United States Commercial Service, part of the U.S. Commerce Department, which has offices in 90 countries around the world.
The assistance center will hold two programs this week to help local companies learn how to get assistance from federal agencies to increase their exports. The programs are set for Wednesday from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the West Virginia Women's Business Center in Beckley, and Thursday from 5 to 6:30 p.m., at the Charleston Area Alliance in Charleston.
Preiser praised state officials like Drake. "The state does a nice job to promote exports. The U.S. Commerce guys also help find new customers."
This week, on shipping docks outside Preiser Scientific's labs and manufacturing facilities near the banks of the Coal River in St. Albans, boxes were packed, stacked and ready for shipment to companies in places from Colombia to Saudi Arabia to China.
Today, Preiser makes 30 different products to test coal, especially coal used to make coke for steel production. The company's devices can measure the heat value, ash content, moisture, sulfur content and the expandable quality of coal about to be used in manufacturing facilities and power plants.
"We will be opening a new plant in Nitro on Oct. 1," Preiser said on Thursday, "and moving our manufacturing unit to a new facility." The company also maintains offices in Louisville, Ky. and Beijing, China, he said.
The company was started in 1924 by Alvin Preiser's father, Benjamin, who was in the first class of chemical engineers that graduated from West Virginia University, his son said.
In addition to coal, Preiser Scientific provides testing devices to industrial chemical plants, to colleges and universities and to medical laboratories.
Preiser also provides equipment to environmental companies like REIC in Beckley to help them monitor water pollution and environmental conditions at industrial plants.
Kevin Westfall, an engineer and vice president for manufacturing at Preiser Scientific, said some of the company's equipment is designed to "get a uniform sample of coal sent to a factory. We keep running it to get a uniform mix, getting a representative sample we can test and analyze."
Westfall said he travels widely to market company products and services. Recently, he's been to China, Mongolia and South Africa.
The company's website, www.preiser.com, provides more detailed descriptions of its products -- which are also translated into several other languages, including Chinese, Russian, Spanish, Indonesian and Portuguese.
Convey Weight, a Dunbar-based company that makes scales, exports to about 30 countries, said company president Austin Amos.
Many companies today are involved in "a world market. Your customers may not be around the corner, but around the world," Amos said.
Convey Weigh makes scales used by a wide variety of companies, including those involved in: iron mining, steel production, food processing and chemical manufacturing. Convey's scales also weigh products like sand, flour, coal and sugar.
"For us, exporting evens out our sales cycles, to where they are is not a feast or famine," Amos said. "It takes the peaks and valleys out."
The hardest part about exporting, he said, may be getting started. The learning curve starts with the first [foreign country]. Subsequent ones are far easier," Amos said.
Drake is also encouraging local exporters to attend an upcoming national conference to be held in Atlantic City, N.J. at the end of the month, which will have representatives from countries around the world. For information, contact her at 304-347-5123 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reach Paul J. Nyden at email@example.com or 304-348-5164.